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by Alana Gregg, MS

Marriage is essentially two imperfect people trying to understand each other and love each other well. Sometimes we expect our spouse to be a mind reader, to just know what we need, and we feel hurt when they don’t just know what we want. But in order for your spouse to love you in the right way, you have to be able to communicate your needs effectively. Good communication involves being able to communicate our ideas, feelings, and opinions and be receptive to those of others.

We all have a way that we typically communicate to people. There are four main communication styles: passive, aggressive, passive aggressive, and assertive.

If you are a passive communicator you typically avoid conflict and are not honest about your thoughts, feelings, or beliefs because you are afraid of confrontation. You might ramble, apologize profusely, let things slide or not say what you really mean. You are probably a good listener and will not escalate a fight but you have a hard time standing up for yourself if someone has hurt you or be able to point out when someone has done something wrong.

If you are an aggressive person you are probably very honest about your thoughts and feelings but in a way that is hurtful to your spouse. You might do this by using blaming or accusing statements or putting your spouse down. Your spouse will fear or avoid you because there is no give and take in the communication process.

If you are passive aggressive, you confront your spouse but in a sarcastic or roundabout way so that he/she knows you are upset but you have not directly said what they have done to hurt you. While you may be getting your point across, you are creating a barrier between you and your spouse that will have negative effects on your relationship.

Assertive communication, however, creates space for both people to feel heard and validated. It involves honesty and clarity but without finger pointing. This happens when spouses are focused on attacking the problem and not each other.

Four keys ways you can practice assertive communication with your spouse:

  1. Use “I” statements- An “I” statement sounds like, “I felt hurt when you came home late without calling because I felt like you didn’t care that I might be worried.” People look at me weird when I tell them to do this because it seems forced but it works! You are clearly expressing how your spouse hurt you but in a way that does not make him/her feel defensive, which allows room for a conversation instead of a fight. The tricky part is it requires us to be vulnerable and express our pain which is always a little scary. But you can’t have a deep relationship with your spouse if you don’t take the risk.
  2. Be mindful of your tone and body- It’s not just what you say but how you say it that is important. Sometimes it’s really hard to stay calm especially when we are angry or have been hurt by our spouse but yelling and finger pointing will only escalate the situation or push your spouse away. Similarly, using a soft, shaky voice or avoiding eye contact will communicate that you are unclear about what you want and need. Using a steady, clear tone and looking your spouse in the eye when you speak will communicate that you are serious and deserve to be heard and respected.
  3. Find the right time- If you are upset with your spouse, it is important to make sure it is a good time to discuss the situation. Don’t dump everything that’s bothering you on them as they are getting ready to walk out the door or fall asleep in bed or just came home from work tired and cranky. Instead, you could say, “I’d like to talk to you about something that is bothering me. Is now a good time to talk?” If they say no say “When would be a good time?” and decide on a time together. Then when you do sit down to talk, you are both prepared and open to solving the problem together.
  4. Listen- Communication is a two-way street. It is important to not just speak effectively but listen effectively. We were created with two ears and one mouth for a reason. When you actively listen to your spouse, you create a win-win situation because both people feel heard and are able to get their needs met.

Unfortunately, even when you say or do all the right things, your spouse may not respond the way you want and could even hurt you. Your words could be hurting your spouse as well. Patterns of communication that have been in place for years are difficult to change; however, your marriage is worth it.

Improve Communication & Start Marriage Counseling in Ambler, PA

Our team of experts at Lime Tree Counseling specializes in marriage counseling. We know that connections to others we love are what life is all about, and we want to help you have strong, healthy relationships. You and your spouse might seem to be speaking different languages, but we can help translate and get you on the same page. Contact us today for a free 15 minute phone consult, or to schedule your first appointment. Your relationship is too valuable to ignore the challenging topics and live disconnected.

Our therapists also offer Anxiety Therapy, Culturally Sensitive Therapy, & Addictions Counseling. We also an online counseling option for residents of Pennsylvania. Please send us a message today and let us know how we can help you live life as you were made to live!